Digital Commerce Leaders Face Uncertainty This Holiday Season

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Digital commerce leaders face uncertainty this holiday season

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By Taylor Schreiner

Posted on 09-15-2021

COVID-19 isn’t done spoiling Fall plans, and now it’s casting a long shadow over the upcoming holiday season. Uncertainty around the course of the pandemic, supply chain interruptions, and shipping costs could all pose significant challenges as retailers ramp up for this year’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond.

But it’s not all bad news. Retailers have weathered this storm before — and learned valuable lessons. Since the pandemic began in 2020, numerous retailers have offered curbside pickup and buy online-pickup in-store (BOPIS) shopping options while expanding their ecommerce offerings. Retailers have also become more agile and have the knowledge and experience to quickly pivot in response to shutdowns and other safety restrictions.

To help retailers prepare for another pandemic-era holiday season and capitalize on what they’ve learned so far, we’ve developed an ecommerce playbook for navigating the most likely logistical disruptions. These recommendations are grounded in findings from Adobe’s Digital Economy Index (DEI), which captures data from more than one trillion website visits across 100 countries.

Think strategically about shipping costs

It’s an unfortunate paradox - shoppers of all kinds love free shipping. But shipping costs are on an upward trajectory, driven by a surge in demand for at-home deliveries. According to Adobe’s DEI report, shipping costs during Cyber week 2020 increased 12 percent YoY, and the percentage of orders shipped for free dropped from 70 percent in 2019 to 64 percent in 2020.

Nevertheless, the appeal of free shipping is so great that we encourage retailers to offer it all the time. By carefully managing the margin in your product pricing — and adjusting it as shipping costs change — you can offer free shipping without damaging your bottom line. At the same time, you may also want to encourage shoppers to use curbside pickup and BOPIS instead of getting a delivery at home.

Scale up in-store pickup options

BOPIS and curbside pickup have emerged as wildly popular customer conveniences, especially in the latter half of the holiday season. According to Adobe’s latest DEI report, BOPIS and curbside orders grew 40 percent YoY during the 2020 holiday season peaking on December 23. We recommend retailers scale up their BOPIS and curbside pickup capabilities, both to provide an alternative to costly shipping and to counteract decreased shopping in stores.

Provide full transparency into shipping and delivery

The past year’s growth in ecommerce has put stress on delivery services and infrastructure. Packages are more likely to be delayed or mis-delivered, which can be a major source of customer frustration. Plus, what were once standard shipping and delivery options may now be subject to change in response to high package volumes as well as severe weather.

Research from Adobe’s DEI suggests that delivery issues will persist throughout the 2021 holidays. First, based on previous year’s trends, holiday-related discounts and promotions are likely to start early, which will inspire early purchases. During the 2020 holiday season, 82 percent of consumers advised that they are most likely to start shopping on or before Black Friday, compared to 77 percent in 2018. This means delivery volumes are likely to rise well before Cyber weekend.

Second, retailers are likely to see a huge volume of online sales clustered around Cyber Monday, which could lead to a higher incidence of delivery snafus. A full 18 percent of holiday spend happens in the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.

To deal with these potential delivery stresses and strains, retailers must give their customers complete visibility into delivery status, ideally in real-time. For example, some retailers provide text messages at key milestones in product shipment or offer instant notifications via a delivery tracking app.

Proactively address shortages and stockouts

The shortages and supply chain issues that began last year remain. Our Adobe DEI data shows that consumers are encountering the “out of stock” message five times as often as they used to before the beginning of the pandemic. And repeatedly hitting the “out of stock” message is one of the most frustrating experiences your customers can have.

While you cannot solve the world’s logistical issues, you can optimize your customer’s journey to minimize the impact of stockouts. One simple option is to make it easy for customers to find alternatives to out-of-stock items on product pages. Also, you’ll need to manage your in-page search results and product recommendations to promote in-stock items and demote out-of-stock items.

According to Ryan Green, a product marketing manager for Adobe Commerce, “It’s critical that your product recommendations and search results do not prominently feature out-of-stock items. If your ecommerce platform is integrated with your inventory database, this can happen automatically. Otherwise, you’ll have to use the admin function to make updates whenever a product is no longer immediately available.”

Make your shopping experience even more convenient

With pandemic-related restrictions and logistical hassles making life more difficult, shoppers will be grateful for anything you can do to make their experience easier and more convenient. In fact, for many consumers, convenience is just as important as price and shipping costs. Some important ways you can make your ecommerce site more convenient include:

  • Improve internal search. Consumers would rather find what they need on the first try than scroll through long lists. This is especially true for mobile users.
  • Connect your in-store and mobile experiences. Your customers should be able to use their phones to check on product availability in local stores, let a sales rep know when they’re waiting at the curb for pickup, and find their way in stores. The more tightly integrated mobile is with the rest of your commerce experience, the better.
  • Speed up checkout. Once customers have decided to buy, they want to do it as fast as possible. At a minimum, you should allow guest checkout for new customers so they don’t have to set up an account and provide one-click checkout for existing customers. Also, your checkout pages should load quickly and not “freeze up” during transactions.

Get ready for success

Pandemic-related logistical disruptions do not have to ruin your company’s holiday season. As we saw last year, ecommerce growth — and great customer experiences — are possible even when supply chains and shipping do not always work perfectly. You can learn more about holiday season trends and ecommerce strategies by downloading the ADI Holiday Ecommerce Playbook.

Topics: Trends & Research, News, B2B, Manufacturing, Retail, Experience Cloud,

Products: Experience Cloud,

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